Wright Brothers’ YC Application
Circa early 1902.
- What is your company going to make?
We are going to make the first manned, powered flying machine. It will allow man to achieve their dream of being as birds, soaring above all obstacles through the infinite highway of air.
- Please tell us in one or two sentences about the most impressive thing other than this startup that each founder has built or achieved.
We have a successful bicycle company, Wright Cycles. In addition to the self-oiling hubs we have invented, our bicycles have pedals and cranks that are reverse threaded on the left side. This prevents the pedal from coming unscrewed while cycling, using the natural tendency of the bicyclist to his advantage.
- Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.
We allowed our 1900 glider, once experiments were concluded, to be repurposed into dresses for the daughters of Ben Tate, our main source of support in Kitty Hawk. We were also happy to utilize Ben’s 10-year old nephew, Tom, as a lightweight and enthusiastic test pilot.
- Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together. Include urls if possible.
Before our thriving bicycle business, we ran a printing company operating a printing press we designed and built together. One of our publications was the short-lived Dayton Tattler, edited by one of our finest classmates, the gifted Negro poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. It is no small joy that he has become a well-recognized novelist and writer in the ten years hence the Dayton Tattler. Paul remains in our prayers as he battles tuberculosis.
- How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?
We are brothers and have always been the best of friends.
- Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you’re making?
Early in our childhood, our father brought home a flying toy made of cork, bamboo, paper and a rubber band that powered its flight. This toy inspired us to create other flying toys, and brought upon a lifetime of passion for flight. Orville even sold kites of his own designs in his youth.
The fact that the great scientist Da Vinci believed in flying machines encouraged us to begin our studies. We believe it possible, and were transfixed by Otto Lilienthal’s experiments before his exceedingly unfortunate death. We find it a truly exciting time to be alive, in this age where these secrets have been preserved until now for us to uncover. We have built up much domain expertise, having read all the Smithsonian had to offer — the works of Sir George Cayley, Chanute, Lilienthal, da Vinci, and Langley. We have also been experimenting with kites and gliders for the past few years.
It has always been man’s dream to fly for several hundred years. We believe it will change everything about how people live.
- What’s new about what you’re making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn’t exist yet (or they don’t know about it)?
Samuel Langley has created a steam-powered unmanned glider, but for transporting man there is no substitute other than ground transportation by train, automobile, or horse-drawn carriage.
- Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
Glen Curtiss and Samuel Langley have also been very active in their research. Langley has been hard at work for a number of years, has more powerful engines, and already has received $50,000 from the War Department and $20,000 from the Smithsonian to develop the machine he calls the “Aerodrome”. While we believe his premise of “inherent stability” and focus on engine power to be flawed, we do respect his work in regards to the derivation of a more accurate value for the Smeaton co-efficient for air resistance.
- What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
The pilot must have absolute control over the flight. Percy Pilcher’s death the year before last has convinced us reliable pilot control is the key to successful flight. Gusty winds and changing conditions mean that inherent stability will never be possible. We have been inspired by Mother Nature herself. Birds change the angle of the ends of their wings to make their bodies roll right or left — not unlike our wonderful bicycles!
- How do or will you make money? How much could you make? (We realize you can’t know precisely, but give your best estimate.)
We believe aviation will become a popular sport. There are many in Europe who will partake in a pastime, and there is no question that many in America would be similarly interested in becoming aviators. There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings.
We seek to hold the the patent for manned, powered flight in addition to creating the most advanced aircraft. Langley has already $70,000 in grants; it is not hard to one day imagine having made ten times that amount if we succeed.
- If you’ve already started working on it, how long have you been working and how many lines of code (if applicable) have you written?
We built our first wing-warping prototype in 1899, and had our first glider tests at Kitty Hawk in 1900.
- How far along are you? Do you have a beta yet? If not, when will you? Are you launched? If so, how many users do you have? Do you have revenue? If so, how much? If you’re launched, what is your monthly growth rate (in users or revenue or both)?
Our second glider was not as successful as we had hoped. We hope to truly have manned unpowered flight with our glider in autumn of this year. We have spent most of last year gathering data about wing designs in our custom wind tunnel we invented for this purpose. We are happy to report that our wind tunnel, which is made of bicycle parts, has led us to be able to collect much richer data on our various wing designs, which has allowed us to iterate faster through our designs.
- If you have an online demo, what’s the url?
We look forward to displaying our glider at Kitty Hawk. We are beyond the stages of gliding while on a tether.
- How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won’t be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?
We will fly our machine, showing the world that manned powered flight is possible. The newspapers will doubtless be fascinated by our discovery, but we will not invite photographers until we are truly ready.
- If you’re already incorporated, when were you? Who are the shareholders and what percent does each own? If you’ve had funding, how much, at what valuation(s)?
We are equal in this venture. We have financed it exclusively from our profits in the bicycle business.
- If you’re not incorporated yet, please list the percent of the company you plan to give each founder, and anyone else you plan to give stock to. (This question is as much for you as us.)
50% Orville, 50% Wilbur
- If we fund you, which of the founders will commit to working exclusively (no school, no other jobs) on this project for the next year?
We are considering hiring Charlie Taylor to take full responsibility for repairs and sales for Wright Cycles, Dayton. Our sister Katharine has agreed to manage the company full time, which gives us freedom to focus exclusively on our dream of flight.
For founders who can’t, why not? What level of commitment are they willing to make?
- Do any founders have other commitments between June and August 2011 inclusive?
We have been trying to arrange affairs in such a way that that we can devote our entire time to experiment in this field.
- Do any founders have commitments in the future (e.g. finishing college, going to grad school), and if so what?
- Where do you live now, and where would the company be based after YC?
We are based in Dayton, Ohio, but traveling frequently to Kitty Hawk. We would like to stay in Dayton, and have considered using Huffman Prairie once we have achieved some measure of success at Kill Devil Hills.
- Are any of the founders covered by noncompetes or intellectual property agreements that overlap with your project? Will any be working as employees or consultants for anyone else?
- Was any of your code written by someone who is not one of your founders? If so, how can you safely use it? (Open source is ok of course.)
Everything is of our own original design.
- Are any of the following true? (a) You are the only founder. (b) You are a student who may return to school when the next term starts. (c) Half or more of your group can’t move to the Bay Area. (d) One or more founders will keep their current jobs. (e) None of the founders are programmers. (Answering yes doesn’t disqualify you. It’s just to remind us to check.)
We cannot move to the Bay Area, but would be happy to display our flying machine all over the world.
- If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we’ve been waiting for. Often when we fund people it’s to do something they list here and not in the main application.
- Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered. (The answer need not be related to your project.)
Lilienthal in five years of time spent only five hours in actual gliding through the air. The wonder was not that he had done so little but that he had accomplished so much. It would not be considered at all safe for a bicycle rider to attempt to ride through a crowded city street after only five hours’ practice spread out in bits of ten seconds each over a period of five years, yet Lilienthal with his brief practice was remarkably successful in meeting the fluctuations and eddies of wind gusts.
(We think if we could practice by the hour instead of by the second, there is hope of advancing the solution of a very difficult problem.)